Name Change

(Torah Portion Vayishlach) Name Change!

Two of our three patriarchs had their names changed by G-d. Avraham’s original name was Avram, which means the father of Aram – the district in which Avram lived.

After Avraham was circumcised, G-d added a letter Hey to his name and his name became Avraham – which means – the father of [Monotheistic beliefs] of all nations.

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah relates the incident of Yaacov struggling with someone, who turned out to be the angel representing his hateful brother Aisav. After Yaacov overpowered the angel the angel changed Yaacov’s name to Yisroel. This was because the name Yaacov contains a connotation of deceit – and Aisav had felt that Yaacov received the patriarchal blessing from their father by a deceitful tactic. However, by changing Yaacov’s name to Yisroel which means officer of G-d, the angel was indicating that he conceded that Yaacov was the true and deserving recipient of the patriarchal blessings.

Later in the portion, G-d Himself also changed Yaacov’s name to Yisroel. This is the name by which we are called – Bnei Yisroel and Klal Yisroel.

The nature of our people is to continually strive to achieve higher levels of spirituality therefore G-d changed their names to reflect this.

The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers teaches us that there are three crowns that one can aspire to attain: The crown of Torah, the crown of Priesthood and the crown of Monarchy. But the crown of a good name – one who achieves a sterling name in one’s spiritual and ordinary activities – is loftier than all three.

The same way a name of a person has an impact on his destiny and personality; it applies to the names of areas as well.

Take Jerusalem as an example. The name Yerushalayim is a conglomerate of the words Yirah and Shaleim – which means “it shall be seen complete.”

When our leader Moshe admonished the Jewish people before his death, he referred to locations in the desert by names which described events that happened there. These names were given to remind us of the good experiences they had there and in some instances they reflected on mistakes the Jews committed there to remind us not to repeat these mistakes and to encourage us to strive for levels of perfection.

The name of our nemesis Aisav is a variation of the word Asu – which means “made” or “complete.” Aisav, due to his ruddy complexion was not circumcised, as there was a potential for harm. Thus, he was never named by his father. Rather, onlookers astounded by his appearance – his body was hairy and complete like an adult – called him Asu, which means “completed” – and that name stuck.

In fact, Aisav also considered himself Asu – completed – in terms of his spiritual status and did not wish to advance. This is the reason he rejected and sold the birthright to Yaacov because of the spiritual responsibilities and demands that came along with it.

The Chidah points out something very interesting: The name of the country Aisav inherited is called Sai’ir, which means hair. Even the name of Aisav’s land always reminded him that his brother Yaacov impersonated him by donning hairy garments to receive the blessing from their father Yitzchok.

The same is true concerning the name of Aisav’s nationality. It is called Edom, which means red. The name Edom was a constant reminder that his brother Yaacov purchased the birthright from him for a bowl of red lentil soup.

Although Aisav’s angel agreed to Yaacov that the patriarchal blessings belonged to him, Aisav could not let go of things. He was stuck in his ways, continually holding on to his grievances and wanting everything to go his way whether it he deserved it or not. This is the source of Aisav’s extreme hatred towards Yaacov which he passed on to his descendants, particularly to the nation of Amalek (Haman and Hitler and the rest of his kin) whose hatred towards Yaacov – Israel, lives on today through murderous and heinous attacks against us.

Yaacov invested and endowed his descendants, with the pristine quality of Emes – truth and righteousness. While not every person is perfect, Yaacov instilled the ability and drive within us to strive to achieve the maximum of our potential – to acquire a crowning and sparkling name for ourselves.

The Torah relates that Yaacov purchased the city of Shechem and then set boundaries. Our Sages teach us that this means that Yaacov ascertained the city boundaries to determine until where one can walk on the Shabbos.

Our Sages point out that although all our patriarchs observed Shabbos (even before it was given), only with Yaacov is Shabbos specifically mentioned. The question is what is unique about Yaacov’s relationship to Shabbos?

Perhaps we can explain that Yaacov was the only patriarch who was in the position of an employee. The Torah relates that Yaacov worked for his deceitful father in law Lavan for twenty years and brought him tremendous success and wealth. This was achieved because Yaacov stood up for his values and did not buckle under or compromise on his observance and connectivity to the holy day of Shabbos.

In fact, the prophet Isaiah assures us that if we regard and uphold the laws of Shabbos and proclaim it as a delight, we will be granted the inheritance of our forefather Yaacov, for G-d’s blessing to Yaacov was unique because it had no limitations.

So it’s fascinating; it was Yaacov who set limitations for the boundaries of Shabbos, and it is through him that we are endowed blessings without limitations – when we uphold and take delight in the holy day of Shabbos!

Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks